“What exactly is the Feast of the Sacrifice (Kurban Bayramı)?” is a question foreigners often ask me when visiting Istanbul during that festival. In this article I will explain the basics of this 4,5 day religious holiday, and of course here and there mention some aspects typical for Istanbul.
What? – The Feast of the Sacrifice commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his faithfulness to Allah. You can find essentially the same story in the Old Testament where Abraham was willing to kill his son Isaac, until an angel stops him.
When? – The Feast of the Sacrifice takes place about 70 days after the end of Ramazan. Here are the exact dates of Kurban Bayramı for the coming three years. The festival lasts four and a half days. The festival’s eve (arife) is the half day to prepare for the four day festivities.
Why? – The Sacrifice Festival is all about charity and community. During this holiday people are constantly on the move visiting family and friends. Family ties get strengthened and children are given an opportunity to bond with the older generations.
Who? – All believers of the Abrahamic religions, but now Muslims are the most active practitioners of this act of faith. Even people who generally don’t go to the mosque, often do go to the mosque to attend the morning prayer on the first day of Bayram.
How? – A goat or sheep of minimum one year old is killed / sacrificed. Sometimes even a bull or a camel of minimum 2 years old is sacrificed, representing a sacrifice of up to seven people. The meat is then given to the poor (both within Turkey and outside) and shared among family members and neighbors.
Typical for both the Feast of the Sacrifice (Kurban Bayramı) and the Sugar Feast (Ramazan Bayramı) is that parents buy new outfits for their children and give the old clothes to the poor. Typically, the children wear their new clothes throughout the festival.
Where? – In a not so distant past a butcher or the head of the family would perform the sacrifice in the garden or street. Today, such practices are prohibited by law. These days special mobile slaughter houses are installed throughout the city where trained butchers will kill, clean, and package the meat at the requests of the families.
Other people prefer to just donate money to organizations such as Türk Hava Kurumu and have animals slaughtered in their name. The organization will also make sure the food is correctly distributed to the poor.
Implications for tourists – Most tourist attractions will be closed for a (half) day on the first day of the festival. Banks, companies, schools and government services will be closed for the whole duration of the festival. In case you plan some road trips to the outskirts of Istanbul, avoid this time of the year. For four days the whole of Turkey is on the move, making roads clogged basically all day long. And the urban legend goes that it always rains on the third or fourth day of the festival. İyi Bayramlar.
This article just lists the facts about the Feast of the Sacrifice. By no means will this post reflect my personal thoughts about sacrificing animals, nor should it become a forum for people expressing their opinions on that subject.